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The ship of Ishtar

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The Ship of Ishtar, a universally hailed classic of the fantasy novel by A. Merritt. Abraham Grace Merritt (January 20, 1884-August 21, 1943) - known ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of The ship of Ishtar

Overall customer rating: 3.000
klarkash

20's pulp in the grand tradition

by klarkash on May 27, 2008

Merritt's 1924 fantasy novel often achieves a vivid, heady opulence despite its slight, almost non-existent structural and philosophical underpinnings. A mysterious block of Babylonian stone arrives in protagonist John Kenton's study and soon crumbles to reveal a tiny model of a fantastic ship which has the power to mystically transport Kenton to the ship's full-size counterpart, where a bizarre crew sails strange seas under compulsion of gods of the Babylonian pantheon. One half of the ship is claimed by love goddess Ishtar and her beautiful priestess Sharane, the other by underworld god Nergal and his evil priest. Kenton's arrival naturally upsets the divinely decreed balance. Merritt achieves a strange dreamy tone here as in much of his work. Much of the action takes place on the ship, afloat on misty seas where the passage of time adheres to no fixed rule. Archaic-sounding constructions add interest to his sometimes unfocused prose. Merritt's interesting use of characters from far-flung time periods- a Persian and a Viking are among the 20th-century Kenton's eventual allies- is only very lightly fleshed out with historical or mythological background. Though it may put off modern fantasy readers accustomed to laboriously detailed world-building backdrops, it is this dashed-off, light quality which forms much of the charm of Merritt's style. Depth of psychological characterization is not to be expected, but the reader is nonetheless rewarded with exotic settings, sights and sounds, as well as a few vivid set pieces and more evocative scenes toward the end of the book. The final naval battle in a half-submerged city of colossal monuments is the most powerful of these. The strength of visions like this and others scattered through novels such as The Face In The Abyss and Dwellers In The Mirage grant Merritt his role as an important pulp fantasist whose work needs to be considered in any study of weird literature.

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